Heinrich Haussler, the Australian who had a storming Classics campaign in 2009, is closing in on a third straight spring of disappointment in 2012. The 28-year-old finished second in both the Tour of Flanders and Milan-San Remo in 2009 but those performances have been replaced by three years of injury, illness and a lack of competitive form.
In 2010 Haussler was ruled out of the Classics after picking up a serious knee injury. A year later he used the Classics to test his recovery but despite a seventh place finish in E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke the Australian was found wanting in the biggest one-day races, something he attributed to his long lay-off due to his injury.
"Today was hard. I felt a lot better today than in the last races where I felt tired. I went home straight after Harelbeke and took it easy and freshened up. Today I felt a lot, lot better," he told Cyclingnews after finishing the Tour of Flanders.
Asked why he was distanced by the leaders so easily in San Remo and E3, he said: "I just didn't have the power. As soon as they'd go hard my legs were blocked. I'm still not on that level where I'd like to be. Today was 100 times better than those races."
The question remains as to why Haussler has struggled this season. If last year he was hampered by a lack of racing over 200 kilometres and was still rehabilitating his knee, then what of this year? According to Haussler, who it must be remembered helped secure Australia a Worlds silver medal last year in a race close to 300km, his lack of power may have been due to his race programme.
In previous seasons he has used Algarve and Qatar as key warm-up events for the Classics but this season he raced in Australia in January, a prerequisite for possible Olympic selection.
"The thing was I had to do the nationals titles and then I did the Tour Down Under and the Bay Crits, and all that was way too early and way too intense. Then we did a training camp in December. I just want to go back to my old school training and do altitude training the whole winter," he told Cyclingnews.
Haussler will take the next few days off before returning to the Classics for Paris-Roubaix. It could be a pivotal race in his season. With his three-year deal winding down at the end of the season a good result would certainly help his personal bargaining position. A clutch of teams will certainly be interested in his future but Haussler's first option would be to stay put with Garmin-Barracuda and Jonathan Vaughters.
"I'm up for contract but it's early in the season. I'd like to stay. The team puts a lot of trust in me, especially JV. He really does believe in me and I want to prove that I can get back to that level and I know I can. I'd like to give something back to the team," he said.
"I just want to be good in the Classics again. It's depressing. You see the guys go on the cobbles and you're just there looking at your legs, telling them to go and you just can't. Today was a lot better but it's still a big step to reach the guys on the next level."